The Child’s Photographic Record and Personal Narratives

Like any doting first-time parents, my wife and I went a little photography-batty in the hours and days following our daughter’s birth. We had three cameras: two in phones, and one little Panasonic digital unit. We clicked away madly, recording every little change in expression, ever bodily movement that seemed significant. Those three cameras all allow the shooting of high-definition video, and so, we made little videos too. Every Sunday for my daughter’s first four weeks, I would faithfully transfer the week’s collection of photos and videos to an online repository. And of course, every once in a while, we would place a photo or two of her on Facebook and sit back, absurdly pleased at the adoring comments and oohs-and-aahs sent our way.

As the days went by the number of photos being shot decreased. Days go by and I do not take a single photograph of my baby girl. My wife is less lazy; her phone shows more recent photographs than mine. And I’ve started missing my Sunday dates with the uploader; its been five weeks since I last uploaded a batch of photos and videos.  But all said and done, given that our daughter is only twenty weeks old, there is still an impressive photographic corpus associated with her. And despite our slowing down in the photography department, under the right circumstances, my daughter still retains the ability to trigger a frenzy of clicking in us. A new expression, a new physical ability, a first-time encounter with a friend or family member; these can all do it.

So I wonder about the curious relationship she will bear to this extensive document of her first few years and about the difference that entails between her and those children who did not in the past, and still don’t in the present, possess such records of their pasts.  At the least, I would imagine my daughter’s sense of personal identification with her past selves would be interestingly different; not only will she possess partial memories of her older selves but she will be able to correlate those with photographs and videos. She will be able to see how she moved, sounded, talked, gurgled, crawled, walked, and of course, cried; she will have available, for careful and repeated inspection, a detailed record of many of her most distinctive behaviors. For those of us that grew up with few films or videos of our early days, they remain utter mysteries; we have dim memories of them, but they lack any more definition than that. Our perspectives on those formative times would obviously be interestingly different if they were supplemented by such detailed transcribings. Such records after all, do not just show us; they show those that we played with and were taken care by.

The stories we tell about ourselves have always suffered and benefited from our lack of access to days gone by; grandparents and parents pass away; memories fade; we move homes. But  we might acquire a radically different sense of identity and self construction as we grow up with such an elaborately recorded and archived past, one where our memories are propped up and made more vivid. Perhaps then, a wholly novel art of storytelling, of personal narrative construction will emerge.

The therapist’s couch could look interestingly different in the years to come.

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